aclimatizing at 2000m

evening, yesterday i arrived in shaxi, after a long day on the busses. i decided to give myself five days rest to acclimatize to the altitude, and i rather spend the extra time in a quiet village than in kunming city or the tourist charade of dali. i’ll skip dali altogether this trip and came direct from kunming to shaxi. one four-hour bus ride to xiaoguan, a motor-rickshaw to the next bus station, a bowl of noodles, another four hours in a smaller bus to jianchuang, then immediately after, into a packed minibus, i arrived after about 40 minutes in shaxi. exhausting, but worth it; i thing my back hurts more after a day sitting on a bus seat than a day skating with a backpack. that is if i remember correctly, how much the pack troubles the shoulders after a day’s skate. that memory will be refreshed soon enough.

this morning out in the fields in the rising sunshine, dark earth caking my shoes, i visited some farmers carrying water to the fields and others, gathering up juvenile rice plants in bundles, to plant in the paddy elsewhere. white wild roses in full bloom, golden rays of sunshine coating the landscape, and the mountains watching all from the east and west, 1500m above toiling villagers and wandering travellers; this isnt quite remote, but it sure is a long way from the city. overall, well worth yesterday’s long haul, to be able to wake up in shaxi.

on the road over the mountains from jianchuang, i scoped out the route i planned to skate, and the minibus followed the awesome mountain road i skated twice last year. measured by the kilometer markers on the roadside, its a good 8km uphill from shaxi, and an awesome 12km downhill back to the crossroads, where i head on towards the yangtze river. i realized that is going to be a hardcore first day out, the very first leg several hours of extremely steep mountain road up! but i would like to set out from shaxi on my skate, and return to shaxi from the other direction, so that’s how it is.

this afternoon i skated 6km up that road and back, got winded awfully soon on the first ascent, and burned up my left shoe footbrakeing on the way down. but i went halfway up the mountain with a couple of short breaks, and felt pretty good after that. on the way down i practiced pendy slides, which i still cant do very well, it always turns into a frontside shutdown slide or with me highsiding on the backside. that’s not on with a backpack though, so footbrakeing it is.

tomorrow i must search the village for a shoe repair guy, an auto workshop, or a tyre dealer, and sort myself some kind of strap-on brake pad. i’ll eventually wear down my shoes, but i ought to prolong that. without my sail in action, my soles wont last long with me dragging them to the bottom of the mountain. the downhill here is always extremely steep, its rediculously fast, and of course, exhileratingly fun. i’m getting stoked to set out after tomorrow!

laying depots

i have always been fascinated by the polar expeditions. the motivations to reach the north and south poles i think in some cases were suspect, but the practice of teams laying depots out in the snow and ice to provision the expeditions proper along the way i think is pretty cool. the fame and acclaim always goes to the team leaders, but there were always gangs of hardcores working to get the leader and a small team to the destination. they had to drag food and gear out into the middle of nowhere, and then again and again, further out into the middle of nowhere, and without their work, these expeditions simply wouldnt have happened.

a trekker can only carry so much gear and food, and without the ability to scavenge local resources, one doesnt get far. obviously we can’t eat stone and snow and ice, so the polar expeditions are the extreme of depot laying, but a friend of mine who walked israel had her friends bury some water cans out in the desert, which she picked up on her way, utilizing the same preparation sense. water is of course, essential to a passage through desert, and good nutrition is essential for endurance anything. as we all can see from the longtreksonskatedecks experiences, it clearly sucks when there are only sweet cookies to eat.

at high altitudes it can feel like it takes a lot more energy to do the simplest things (like pushing a skateboard) and this time i am going higher for longer, so better preparation is key. my last trek went down well, largely powered by my breakfast meusli and granola snack bars, plus the occasional snickers bar, which evidently provide about as much energy suppliment as some high dollar sports snacks. search it and come to your own conclusions from the plethora of opinions and quasi-research online

several things became clear on my last trek, that i can deal with a 1.5kg of foodstuffs in my pack, and that i wont be finding oats in any form in rural yunnan. dried fruits, banana chips and nuts yes, but no oats. folks just dont eat that up in the mountains. there are plenty of little snack cookies, found in the villages along my route, but some of them are stale or the oil has gone rancid, and i know from long years of travelling in challenging places, i need to eat right, or i get tired, stressed, and begin to make mistakes. plus the fun-factor is greatly reduced when one runs out of food.

i am certainly not going to make my planned 50km per day powered on rice noodles and sugar-margarine cakes, so i connected with some friends of friends, and a couple of weeks ago i set out to lay a depot. i sent out a package, 2kg of awesome german meusli (costs a small fortune here in china) and another kilo of granola snack bars in different flavors, to a village at my halfway point. here again, as with the polar expeditions, its not just myself out there pushing who is making this trek happen. thanks Sam for sorting out the logistics!

about my oats, usually i mix my own meusli to reduce costs, but once i start throwing cashews and almonds in there, the price of self-made and imported meusli about evens out. plus i like the european rolled oats, the hull is always more intact and darker than beijing supermarket oats, and health-food meusli mixes contain a wider variety of seeds and dried fruits. i try to find meusli with no added sugar, but anything with cornflakes and or bannana chips has sugar. if the meusli does have sugar in its constituent products, i sieve out the dust at the bottom of the bag, and can reduce the sugar content quite a bit.

there is, of course, a lot of great local food out in yunnan, and for my one big cooked meal per day, i should have no problem finding ok food with lots of veggies and some meat, plenty of rice, except in a couple of remote spots where there are no villages or monasteries. however, i have discovered over several visits to remote yunnan, that a lot of the local food is greasy, spicy, hemorrhoid-aggravating chow, especially if one is staying in little mountain villages. so local food can keep my calorie count up, but simply cant be my main source of sustinance. hence the oats, the preparation, and the speed-post parcel up to 3400m.

i was happy to hear today that this package arrived, the depot, shall we say, has been laid, and i can chow my way through the initial 1.5 kg of oats i am carrying with me now, on my way up.

weightlifting for (distance) skating

lifting weights has a lot of health benefits, especially for ‘old’ guys like me, haha, i turned 40 this year. yeah! combined with yoga, weightlifting is an important asset in increasing athletic performance. one might think just skating longer and longer is enough to train for long distance skating, but weightlifting for skating is all about improving muscle strength and stamina, as well as overall mental and physical condition. this is good, and its something i dont get from just skating.

my goal is not to be big and buff, but to be physically able for riding fast downhill, pushing long uphills, schlepping a 12kg pack and maybe gripping a sail, or fighting a nasty headwind. developing core strength, solid upper body muscles and flexibility, powerful calf and thigh muscles, a body toned and primed with energy, this will make any of us stronger skaters.

i train with weights once or twice a week, sometimes every fourth day, keeping a semi-regular program of free-weight lifting, dumbbells and barbell. i do the same exercises again and again, when i get bored, i’ll throw in a few different ones, but for the most part its a regular plan. i keep a written record of my lifting, so i can see how i progress, and see where i need to . it works for me, and after training intensively, then relaxing a bit (tapering off), when i go to do the deed, if its skating or bodysurfing or swimming, it comes with greater ease and i can do it for longer.

being a skinny kid it was never easy for me to go to a gym. i still get this impression of sweaty muscle-hunk dens and stylish juicebar in spandex scenes, neither of which appeal to me, when i think of gym. so i train at home, with free weights on a simple rack, interchanging dumbbell and barbell plates.

in my workouts, i do core strength exercises, squats and dead lifts, for the main muscles which support and center the body, then compound exercises like lunges, bench press, and various rows. each of these exercises builds a group of muscles. then i do muscle-specific exercises, working from the biggest muscles to the smallest.

i split my workouts so i do one group of core exercises ex. legs, chest and neck, then alternate the next workout, core exercises and back and arms. i am not into sporting big chunky biceps, so only occasionally i throw in some dumbbell alternating curls, but i work my calves almost every session, because these are stringy, hard clusters of muscle, which get useed every day, all day, so they need a lot of work to get them to grow and strengthen.

i read the old bible by arnold schwarzennegger, and i fond some sites online which have little muscle maps and descriptions of exercises. so many resources can give instructions and pointers for each exercise, with different styles and techniques, but i hold to the standard: lifting less weight with good clean form is better than sloppy lifting of heavier weights. 8 to 12 repetitions, three sets of each exercise, when i can do 12, i add 10% or so weight and start again with 8 repetitions the next time around. 45 minutes to an hour in total, with a warmup yoga (surya namaskar is good) and cool-down session. off days i do yoga, about 35 minutes, a combination of iyengar, hatha, raja and kundalini yoga.

immediately following a workout i drink a whey shake: a liter of oj and water mix, into which i put 35-50g of whey protein isolate (not concentrate) and 60-100g dextrose-maltodextrin carbohydrate mix. i weigh about 74kg. i drink half of that in 15 minutes, and the rest diluted with more water over the next hour. if i did a particularly hard workout, i will add some extra carbohydrate powder. on workout days, in the night before sleep, i will have a whey shake with 20g of whey and about 20g of casein powder, and 40g of carbohydrates. i always have a hard time eating enough, so i am not worried about surplus carbs, especially when i am being active. this protein shake isnt to build bulk, but to maintain muscle-building elements in my body.

my skate training is basically as follows: i will do a free-weight workout one day, then rest a day, the third day i go for a long skate, in between days, a couple of short fast skates, then weightlifting again when i feel up to it. sometimes thats every fourth day lifting weights. a couple of weeks before i plan to skate longer, i’ll stop with the weightlifting, and skate around as i like but rest up, mostly.

some important tips: i dont skate hard directly after a workout, that’s a sensitive time when the muscles are recuperating, and are prone to injury. wait at least 4 to ten hours after a workout before skating hard or long. i dont lift weights directly after skating, either. i just stressed my muscles out on the road, its no time to stress them more. building strength and stamina takes time, it doesnt do to skate then lift every other day, the body needs time to build that muscle stronger. so maximum every fourth day with the weights, and a rest day or two in between, that’s what works for me.

i am working on a little video to demonstrate this whole power play, and from that you all can see, i am not lifting mega heavy weights, i’m not built, but i push myself to the limits of what i can do each time. in bodybuilding terms, i dont ‘train to failure’, but almost. my point is that weightlifting is essential stuff for any serious athletics, and it can help prevent injury out on the road. light-hearted as it may seem, as relaxed a pace of 50km per day might be, skating distance in the himalayas is heavy duty, and i train hard for that.

training in hong kong

i spent the winter months working on a film job in hong kong. most every day i pushed pushed up massive hills, left right, left right, left right. and most every day i was raging down those steep hills, getting more comfortable at speed, real speed for me is still around 50kmh. along with the hills there was a lot of pushing on the flat, through the megacity. great skating!

here is a video of the ride home, music is plasticman

skate [to] the glacier 2012

i’m going on another skate trek in yunnan, southwest china, may 2012. this time it will be a 1000km skate, about a month on the road, from shaxixiang, up the yangtze river to zhongdian, then to deqin and the mingyong glacier, and back down the mekong river, over the mountains to shaxi, then the last leg to dali.

check this space to see how that goes!